I don’t condemn porn as inherently bad, wrong, or immoral. I don’t think that its viewers are going to hell. I know that masturbating to porn is harmful for some, but not harmful for everyone. Masturbating to porn has a different effect on everyone, so it can be extremely hard for us all to agree on whether or not porn is “good” or “bad.” That is what makes it so confusing for people to decide whether or not they need to stop watching it.
One thing that we know about porn is that some people can’t control how much they watch it. In my role as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have spoken with tons of men who have seen their porn use escalate to the extent that it’s ruining their lives and relationships, and they CAN’T STOP! Since our individual porn use is still a taboo subject to talk about out loud in public, this forces many compulsive porn users to hide the fact that they can’t stop watching it and it’s ruining their lives. These people are in pain. Trust me… I know them.
One of the most common things that I hear from the romantic partners of compulsive porn users is that they feel ugly, unattractive, or inadequate in some way. This feeling has nothing to do with their physical appearance or sexual capabilities, but rather with the fact that their porn-addicted partner has become attached and accustomed to the experience of watching porn much more than they are attached to having actual real-life sexual experiences with their partner. The dopamine blasts that internet porn create are far more explosive than what can be created by skin-to-skin contact, which leaves the addicted porn user craving more dopamine with his computer or cell phone, and leaving the partner feeling neglected and hurt.
There is a neuroscience axiom that “Nerve cells that fire together, wire together.” In short, this means that the more we engage in a particular activity (especially a rewarding one!), the more our brains recreate themselves to expect and crave more of that experience (like a well worn path in the grass that has been walked on thousands of times). If you are watching too much porn, your brain is trying to help you by making that “necessary” experience much more alluring and easy to attach to.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman have said that infidelity is “anything that you are deliberately hiding from your partner.” I love this definition, and it gives us all something to strive to in our authenticity and intimacy in romantic relationships. If you can’t be honest with your romantic partner about how much porn you watch, you are being unfaithful. If you can, then you and your partner can discuss it and come to an agreement that works for you as a couple. If you can’t agree, then many times an experienced mental health professional can help the two of you negotiate that agreement.
Let's face it… Porn feels amazing to the brain. So much so that it can trick us into thinking that we’re doing fine, when in reality it is harming the relationships and facets of our lives that are most important to us. Ask yourself if your porn-life is harming your real-life sex-life, and if so, go talk to someone about it and begin to create a more open and honest relationship with yourself and those who you love.
Porn isn’t inherently “bad,” but if you can’t be honest with your partner about how much you are watching it, then it just might be bad for you.